Charlie Brown may have a soft spot for ugly Christmas trees, but not you.
No, you want the perfect tree. The one that people spot through the window and can’t help but admire. The one with branches so bushy that the ornaments feel lucky. The one that leaves even seen-it-all Santa speechless.
Well, you’re in luck. Here, we gathered expert tips for how pick out the prettiest pines and fanciest firs.
If You’re Chopping Down Your Own
Chopping down your own Christmas tree can be a great holiday tradition to start with the family. But before you pack everyone up and head to the farm, it pays to prepare.
Before leaving home, measure the space where you’ll place the tree, as well as your front door. Trees have a way of looking (much, much) smaller out in the wild, and you don’t want to pull a Clark Griswold. Bring the measuring tape with you, as well as rope to secure the tree to your car. Some farms will provide saws, but others are BYO.
One you arrive, don’t be tempted to chop down the first tree that catches your eye. As the season wears on, the trees closest to the parking lot may be picked over. If you can forget how cold your toes are, it’s worth hiking a little further along.
If You’re Buying From a Lot
There’s no shame in buying your Christmas tree from a lot—we’re not all lumberjacks. Just make sure to select a fresh, healthy tree.
“No matter what type of tree you select, you want the needles to be green and supple and the branches to be pliable,” advises Tim O’Connor, executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association, a trade organization representing more than 700 farms. “If it’s already dry, it’s not going to last long.”
Ask the nursery owner or lot attendant when the trees were delivered. While some sellers receive all of their trees at once, others will have shipments scheduled throughout the season. Ideally, you want a tree from the most recent delivery.
Then, inspect your prospective tree:
- Run a branch through your hand. If the needles fall off or the branch seems overly brittle, move on.
- Give it a sniff. Does the tree smell musty? If so, it’s been cut and stored for too long already, and you should select another.
- Inspect the bark. Wrinkled bark is another sign of a thirsty, dried out tree.
- Gently bounce it. While it’s normal for some needles to fall off, an excessive amount shouldn’t jump ship when you move the tree.
Again, a measuring tape wouldn’t hurt—it can be easy to get carried away during the holidays.
Which Type of Tree?
Christmas tree selections vary by area. Most regions, however, will have a mix of various types of firs, pines and spruces available at conventional lots.
When it comes to health and longevity, the type of tree isn’t much of a factor. “We’ve gotten pretty good at farming Christmas trees,” says O’Connor. “With the proper care, almost every species should last four to six weeks.”
You might, however, consider your decor style before selecting one species over another. Fraser firs, for example, have sturdy branches, making them ideal for hanging heavier ornaments. Eastern white pines, by comparison, have feathery branches that are better suited for delicate decorations. Lightweight branches can also make for charming garland and table decor, something to keep in mind if you’d like to get the most from your evergreen.
A Word About Bugs
It’s unlikely that your Christmas tree has bugs—but it’s possible.
“If you have a live tree, there’s always a chance that there may be bugs living in it,” says Dr. Michael Skvarla, the director of insect identification at Penn State University’s entomology department.
Luckily, you can greatly reduce your chance of holiday hitchhikers by inspecting your tree before bringing it home. Prune off any branches that have white flocking (a sign of pine bark adelgids) or walnut-sized brown masses (which are likely praying mantis egg sacks). You’ll also want to remove any bird nests, which could harbor mites or parasites.
Some Christmas tree retailers have mechanical shakers specially designed to evict pests. But if yours doesn’t, Skvarla says shaking it by hand should do the trick.